I don’t know about you, but the idea of going hunting on my own terrified me! I think a lot of it comes from when I was growing up, my dad, probably coming from a place of fear, told me that I was never allowed to go hunting by myself! I never even really thought about it as something I’d ever do, or even want to do. Even as I got older and was in high school, he stressed how dangerous it was.
Of course, I argued because my friends did it all the time, so why couldn’t I?! He had a hard time with that one. Basically, it was because (as he put it), you can do anything, however...when it comes to some things, you can’t do everything a guy can. If you know me, then you know that when someone tells me I can’t do something, I want to do it even more just to prove them wrong. I know he didn’t mean it as a, "well you’re not a boy" kind of thing but more like, "I’m scared at the idea of you out there by yourself in the woods," kind of thing. And to be honest, I am definitely daddy’s little girl!
I’m not saying women can’t do anything a man can. Trust me, I love to prove that one wrong and we all know we’re badasses! But I’m also not saying women can either, and I can see where my dad was coming from. In his shoes, I would probably do the same thing and be worried about my daughter, or anyone going out hunting on her own.
With that aside, let’s not forget that we are talking about the wilderness--you can never cheat the mountain! We have been told of the "terrors of the woods" such as the big bad wolf and lions, tigers, and bears, OH MY!, in our nursery rhymes since we were young and they all have a lesson in them.
At the end of the day, whether it was out of fear or how I was raised, I never went hunting on my own. Until now, at the age of 29, I didn’t realize I even needed to think about hunting by myself. Throughout my 20’s, I started to realize there were many times I wanted to go hunting and couldn’t find someone to go with, couldn’t match up schedules, or found we just didn’t have the same hunting style. Yes, finding a good hunting partner is just as hard as dating!
Working in a hunting shop, it’s almost impossible to get a day off to hunt; the busiest time of the year is hunting season. I happened to have one day off where I was able to go hunting, yet there was no hunting partner to be found! I’d always wanted to have the courage to be able to go out on my own but to be honest, I was scared!
I finally found a hunting partner and he basically told me, "F&%@ it...just do it! Arrows don’t fly from the couch!” That stumped me, and of course, he was right! I’m a big girl now and needed to saddle up and go for the 8! The only thing stopping me now was fear--this controlling thing that you can’t even see yet can be completely paralyzing. I was the only thing holding myself back.
I gathered my gear, slightly dragging my feet, trying to give myself more time to gather some extra courage. I double-checked my Garmin Inreach and OnX Maps making sure I had my eagle eye’s watching over me and headed out. The one thing I didn't check was the weather...I NEVER check the weather. In my mind, if I decide I’m going to do something, I’m going to do it--rain, snow, sleet, or shine. I ALWAYS make sure I take the essentials with me though, so I’m prepared for whatever mother nature decides to throw my way.
Here is a little huntress insight for you…ALWAYS CHECK THE WEATHER!!!!!!
As I got to my parking spot, I was wishing I had further to drive to give myself a better pep talk. In my mind, I had no choice or excuse now. I was going to do this! I was going to complete my first solo hunt and by golly, I was going to shoot something! In reality, though, I was freaking out! I completed my internal checklist, took a deep breath, locked the truck, and took my first steps to my first solo hunt!
My plan was to take a ridge I had picked out on the map, follow it around this cliffy bowl, then follow the ridge just on the other side that would take me to the bottom side of this wallow I knew of. Short, sweet, simple, right? (Side note elk are noisy, so if you're crashing through some thick brush, let out a couple of cow calls and give yourself a chance in case there are elk nearby.) Once I made it halfway to my first little ridge, things opened up as far as visibility went. I cut very fresh tracks and had stumbled into some really good beds. The smell of elk was in the air and just about punched me in the face! I heard a few twigs snap, then could smell their sweet heavenly stench, so I let out a few cow mews and sat for a minute with no luck.
I continued to move my way up to the top of the ridge where I became cliffed out, so I began making my way around the top, calling into each finger and saddle below me. This is where I learned my lesson about the weather. The wind had been blowing all day and now it was now getting stronger. Since I was already to this spot, I wasn't turning back. I figured once I got into the thick timber, it would get better. Soon there was no more open county as I made my way up the second ridge. I was still finding elk beds so that was a bonus.
Then it hit me...I started to get into my own head. The two things I knew for a fact about the area were that there are elk and are wolves. By this time, the wind was pretty bad and there was no hope of hearing anything around me, let alone a bugle. I was in an area heavily covered in timber, with a maze of deadfall, trying to pick my way through. Having been snuck up on by wolves before, I saw nothing but ambush points and the opportunity for them to sneak within a matter of ten feet before I could see them. I started to panic! Convincing myself to take a breather and eat something, I sat on a downed tree in the biggest open area I could find, which was not a big field of view. My head was on a swivel as I basically inhaled my sandwich. Freaking myself out even more I sat, thinking about the fact that I wouldn’t even be able to hear something sneak up on me, even if I wanted to.
At this point, the wind was really bad! Out of nowhere the wind just stopped. It was one of the eeriest feelings. After having the wind in your ears all day, then just dead silence. Then I started to hear the snapping of wood as a tree fell just on the other side of the face I was sitting on. I had an instant flashback to a story Eric had just recently told me, about him sitting in a ground blind during a wind storm and had a tree fall, landing only feet from him and the blind. So of course that image flashed into my head over and over! As if I needed any more help freaking myself out! Needless to say, I made the executive decision, my lunch break was over and I started moving!!
As I neared closer to the wallow and could hear the lower creek, I felt a huge sense of relief. I had finally got to familiar territory! I’d only been to that wallow once before, but I was excited to see it. Just before the wallow, I saw a highway of tracks and could smell the beds nearby. This was it, my luck was going to change! I followed a small creek up to the bottom of the wallow and sat for a few minutes to make sure there was nothing on it. The elk had definitely been in there tearing it.
I started planning my setup where I would have the biggest advantages. With several shooting lanes and my Ultimate Predator cow decoy set up, I was sure that when an elk walked in, it was mine! The wind never stopped and my scent was swirling all over the place. It was already 3:30 pm, and I figured since I was already there, I might as well stay for a while. So there I sat. And sat. And sat. The wind only continued to get nastier. Not able to see the sky to the North of me, I sent out a Garmin message to have friends take a look at the weather and see if I had a storm coming my way, or if it was going to go around. The response was, “Not that I know of... looks sunny to me.” Looking around, all I could see were the trees bending in the wind. I sat there for about another hour before it got worse! I could hear the roar of wind gusts coming from what seemed like miles away before it reached me. And when it hit, it hit hard! It seemed like the entire forest was going to come down on top of me. Everywhere I looked, all I saw were hundreds of previously fallen trees, creating a life-sized version of pick-up sticks.
Then I heard it again! The sound of wood cracking as another tree fell close by, stripping every limb off the surrounding trees before it came crashing down. The inner dialogue in my head would have made for quite the story. I was basically talking to myself at that point, with sarcastic filled comments such as, “oh just get out there and don’t be a wuss” Eric said. “Arrows don’t fly from the couch,” he says. “IT’LL BE FINE”, HE SAYS! Just then, the third tree fell, WAY too close for comfort!!!
That was it, I was on my feet and going to get out of there! It was too dangerous. I figured I wouldn't go back the way I came through the timber after the last two trees fell within five minutes of each other. My best bet was to go straight up to the top of the ridge, where I knew there were a few shale rock caps to get me out of the trees. My little legs couldn’t carry me fast enough! The entire time all I could think about was, YEP…this is how I will die and I won’t even be able to Garmin for help because I will be SQUASHED BY A TREE!
I’m pretty sure I reached the top in record time and found an open rocky spot to wait out the storm. When I looked up at the sky, all I could see was a black cloudy abyss coming in, and I was only at the front of the storm! I sent out another message, letting my friends know I had a change of plans and would be coming out a different canyon, taking the open sage south side down, and would need to be picked up so I could get back to my truck clear on the other side of the mountain. I decided to give it another twenty minutes in case I got lucky and the storm would pass. Of course, that didn’t happen, so I started making my way down to my pick-up spot.
I hadn't even made it a quarter-mile down and was already exhausted. As I worked my way through the shale, I found a game trail that went underneath a single giant pine tree. As I got closer to the tree, a grouse busted out and sounded like a helicopter taking off. It dang near made me crap my pants! They wait until you are right on top of them before they take off. I tried to convince myself it hardly got me and kept going. Well if the first one didn’t get me, the second one definitely did! And the third. And the Fourth! OH COME ON! I yelled as the fifth one flew off. That’s it, you’re going to die! I knocked an arrow and looked over my shot as the grouse sat perfectly perched on an open tree limb. Not having a judo tip, I decided I would be even madder if I lost a very expensive arrow and passed on it. It was that bird's lucky day!
I made it down to the bottom pretty quickly. My legs now being the consistency of jello, kind of just rolled me down to the bottom. The walk to the bottom wasn’t bad and for the most part, was flat. That didn’t matter when I found what apparently was the ONLY rock on an uneven section, tripped, and almost went head over heels! I couldn’t help but just laugh at this point. What else was I going to do, get mad?! That wouldn’t have done me any good. To make things worse, now it was snowing. So much for “looks sunny to me” as I had been told earlier. I finally reached the main road and found a nice spot out of the wind and snow to lean against an old stump under a bush. I dozed off here and there until my ride finally showed up forty-five min later.
I can’t say it was even close to what I’d expected, or hoped for, as my first solo hunt experience. That being said, looking back I wouldn’t trade it for anything! Time and time again hunting has been a constant teacher. With it has come so many priceless lessons. One of them being a personal confidence booster. I had taken the first steps of overcoming one of my own personal fears. The other lesson I had been reminded of, is that we can’t control the events that occur around us most of the time. We can only play the hand we're dealt and roll with the punches.
If I could suggest a few pointers if anyone else is considering, or already solo hunting. Anytime I’m out hunting, or even out for a hike, I always carry a pistol with me. Even if I’m rifle hunting; I’d rather have it and never need it, than to need it and not have it. Another lesson I’ve learned from past experiences is to always have maps and tracking going on my phone, as well as my Garmin Inreach. Having a good layering system of clothes will help when you encounter unexpected changes in weather, and having snacks, water, and a good water filter to make sure all your bases are covered!
“Our only limitations are the ones we set up in our own minds.”